Quong Yuen Shing & Co., also known as the 32 Mott Street General Store, was Chinatown’s longest continuously operating store before it closed in 2003. Founded in 1891 by Lee Lok, the last owner’s grandfather, the store originally sold typical goods like herbs, groceries, and silks while also functioning as a crucial social hub, post office, and banking center for the Chinese bachelor society. While the store’s functions shifted across generations, including selling souvenirs and handling utility bills for elderly and undocumented residents, its interior remained unchanged for over one hundred years – MOCA co-founder Jack Tchen told the New York Times that “the interior is one of the most important surviving historical sites as far as I am concerned in the whole city from the 19th century.”
But after 9/11, with Chinatown sequestered and left without aid following the event, local businesses like 32 Mott Street began to fail. Paul J.Q. Lee, the last owner, was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to reopen Park Row. But after he lost more than half his old revenue and fell behind on rent following 9/11, city marshals evicted Mr. Lee in 2003; MOCA salvaged the store’s sign from the trash. As of 2004, Mr. Lee still was still living next door to 32 Mott but painfully refused to enter its new incarnation when it reopened under new ownership selling tourist trinkets – while the skeleton of the original store’s cabinetry and shelves remains, the rest of its history has been stripped away.